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R–CAATs: Bridging the Information Gap

As the Army continues to prosecute the Global War on Terrorism, it is simultaneously undertaking some of the most far-reaching changes in its history. In this period of both war and transformation, the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan provide Army logisticians with the opportunity to see how well new concepts, new organizations, and new tactics, techniques, and procedures perform under actual combat conditions. Our logistics warriors are learning lessons each day about what works and what doesn’t work in the field, and we need to capture that information for our doctrine, concepts, and training developers, as well as our schoolhouse instructors and educators. We cannot afford to have an information gap between what we are teaching (the generating force) and what is being learned in the field (the operating force).

However, amassing information from units deployed in theater is harder than it sounds. Our solution has been to take a well-established process for gathering information and developing lessons learned—the Collection and Analysis Team (CAAT) program used by the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas—and reverse it. The result is the Reverse-Collection and Analysis Team (R–CAAT) program.

What do I mean by “reversing” the CAAT process? Simply put, instead of taking a limited number of data collectors to the unit to bring back information and try to pass it on to those who need to work with it without losing anything in translation, an R–CAAT event brings recently redeployed sustainment commanders and key personnel from the unit to our Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) staff and schools.

The R–CAAT program was initiated in May 2006. Commanders of recently redeployed logistics organizations in theater and some of their direct support staff are invited to visit CASCOM and update senior leaders and Army Logistics Management College (ALMC) and Quartermaster School students and instructors on observations, insights, and lessons (OILs) collected during their deployments. CASCOM and school personnel, working closely with CALL, then can turn this information into lessons learned that can be used to change behavior and adjust sustainment products across the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) domains.

For example, over a series of four R–CAAT sessions with sustainment brigade command teams, it became clear that the mounted crew gunnery skills of convoy escort teams needed to be enhanced. The brigade leaders gave us a good picture of the current operational requirement for sustainment forces to defend themselves, and we have incorporated their feedback into a new gunnery strategy, complete with gunnery tables and associated doctrine for convoy protection.

R–CAATs also help to verify if doctrine—written largely based on concepts—actually works. The “lessons learned” challenge has always been trying to determine what is truly a lesson learned and what is just someone’s opinion gleaned from written reports. R–CAATs are an information collection flagship for us because they allow the entire CASCOM staff—combat and training developers—to hear it from the source and, more importantly, to discuss and debate with those who know what they actually experienced.

Partnering with CALL, the R–CAAT program pairs CASCOM staff members with leaders from redeployed combat service support units to bridge the information gap between the generating and operating forces. Over 2 or 3 days, the recently redeployed leaders describe their OILs to the CASCOM staff through professional development and directorate roundtable sessions. The staff members of the individual directorates engage the R–CAAT teams in depth, conducting discussions with the command teams on concepts, training, doctrine, tactics, and unit design.

No method of learning lessons from the field is more valuable than having experienced commanders and leaders who have been there—in the theater— exchange their views and ideas directly with the subject-matter experts who develop logistics training and doctrine. That kind of dialog cannot be replicated on paper. You’ve got to have them sit across the table from each other and talk face to face.

We also videotape R–CAAT sessions and then catalog and upload them to CALL and to CASCOM’s Sustainment Knowledge Network so they will be available across the Army. Each leader professional development briefing is transcribed, along with the unit’s briefing slides, into an R–CAAT series for CALL to distribute to an Army-wide audience. That’s what knowledge management is about: slicing and dicing and packaging knowledge so customers Army-wide—generating force and operating force—can use the information to meet their needs.

The cumulative knowledge provided by the R–CAATs has been invaluable to doctrine, training, and combat developers in CASCOM and to junior leaders at ALMC and the Quartermaster School (and soon also the Ordnance and Transportation Schools), allowing them to analyze and scrutinize battle-tested best practices. The result of the R–CAAT process is an improved ability to make doctrinal manuals and platform instruction more effective and relevant to the rapidly changing wartime environment. For those of you who are now deployed or about to deploy, keep us in mind. We look forward to hearing from you and making you a part of the doctrine, training, organization design, and materiel requirements for our future!

Major General Mitchell H. Stevenson is the Commanding General of the Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee, Virginia.